Throwing Responsibility under the Racial Injustice Bus
The other day, I noticed a moving display that read, “Rise Above Racial Injustice.” Only it wasn’t moving in the emotional sense; it was traveling down the road. While sitting in my car at a red light in Chapel Hill, NC, a large public transit bus passed by fully decorated with woke messaging. Next to the “Rise Above Racial Injustice” slogan were illustrated portraits of two residents, each wearing large medical masks, surrounded by the phrases, “my self worth negates racist remarks” and “rise above hate.”
As part of an “Art + Transit” program, the town of Chapel Hill commissioned full vinyl wraps for three public passenger buses. Artists applied for the opportunity to display their social justice artwork. Winners included the “Racial Injustice” design, a “Can’t Stop Pride” design with a raised fist (probably not the best slogan for a vehicle that stops repeatedly), and a “LatinX Pride” bus festooned with cartoon hearts and various gendered Spanish terms like “mama” and “papa.” Even the interiors didn’t escape activist art. The bus ceilings are wrapped as well: one program participant explained, “Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling, so why not a bus?”
Chapel Hill’s public transportation bureaucrats ignored their town’s own policies. Public transit advertising rules state that Chapel Hill Transit “does not intend to create a public forum for public discourse or expressive activity,” and “maintain[s] an image of neutrality on political matters and other noncommercial issues that are the subject of public debate or concern.” Just like the fiery but mostly peaceful protests of 2020 in the midst of COVID lockdowns, rules don’t apply when it comes to select and exaggerated social injustices.
After taking in the imposingly woke city buses, I wondered if public school buses are next. How soon will “Who doesn’t love a yellow school bus?” become, “Who doesn’t love a non-binary gender neutral racial tolerance and educational liberation bus?” Chapel Hill schools are primed for this hypothetical to become reality.
In 2021, the Chapel Hill School District hired a new Superintendent, Nyah Hamlett, Ed.D. (The previous superintendent resigned following revelations that she hired an educational equity consultant company without school board approval.) The new hire came from Loudoun County, Virginia, a district infamous for woke controversies, including a female raped in the girls bathroom by a boy wearing a skirt. During Hamlett’s tenure as Chief of Staff for Loudoun County Schools, the district developed an “Action Plan to Combat Systemic Racism” including a “Student Equity Ambassador program” that would later be challenged in a lawsuit as viewpoint discrimination under the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause.
Dr. Hamlett immediately emphasized equity following her move to Chapel Hill. “It’s really about modeling equity in the work that we do, and having it embedded in everything that we do…. Equity is something that has to support, and be the foundation of, our work,” she stated.
With significant support and involvement from Hamlett, Chapel Hill Schools released its “Think (and Act) Differently” 2027 Strategic Plan with five core values: Engagement, Social Justice Action, Collective Efficacy, Wellness, Joy. Clearly the strategic plan encourages a child’s call to activism over academic achievements, and the children must show “joy” in this vision. To push partisan activism on kids, Hamlett receives a $226,000 per year government salary.
Not unlike the “Student Equity Ambassador” program of Loudoun County, Hamlett started an “Equity and Empathy Ambassador Program” in Chapel Hill composed of 39 high schoolers from the district. To Hamlett’s delight, her personal ambassadors of wokism successfully lobbied the district to eliminate class rankings. The deputized social-justice warriors have their sights set on rendering homework useless, calling for grades based on completion rather than accuracy. Without grades, there can be no inequities.
Unfortunately, recent controversy has disrupted Hamlett’s march toward a more equitable but less academic future here in North Carolina. An anonymous tip led a local newspaper, the News & Observer, to investigate whether Hamlett plagiarized portions of her education doctorate dissertation. The article included interviews with three plagiarism experts, reporting:
The multiple examples of duplicate wording and incorrectly cited sources suggest intentional plagiarism, two experts told The N&O, although a third expert viewed it more as a case of sloppy work.
The credible questions of plagiarism against the school superintendent could not stand. In an open letter that deserves to be read in Greta’s “How dare you!” voice, a self-described “multiracial group came together because of concern that [the] superintendent was undergoing this kind of attack.” According to the authors, investigations of plagiarism are racist and a clear violation of public transit slogans. The letter quoted one teacher asking, “If she wasn’t a Black woman, would they be asking these same questions about her dissertation?” Asserting, “It’s not typical that we scrutinize the academic work our leaders completed as students,” (Hamlett’s dissertation was published only five years ago) the authors insisted, “Black educators in our town report exaggerated levels of scrutiny and suspicion regarding their academic backgrounds and their work.”
The N&O journalist, Dan Kane, was also reprimanded in the letter. Instead of working with an anonymous informer to “dredge up plagiarism charges against Dr. Hamlett,” the authors thought Kane should “apply his investigative energy and resources to reporting on Dr. Hamlett's outstanding performance as superintendent.” Is this journalist not willing to ride Chapel Hill’s “Rise Above Racial Injustice” bus?
Hamlett published her own statement on the matter prior to the news article, which Mr. Kane cited. She stood by her dissertation while inferring that the questions of plagiarism were an unnecessary and frivolous distraction. “I do not know why… this topic may be represented in a local news article,” she wrote in boldface type. In a radio interview, she admitted plagiarism was a serious charge, but again asserted the allegations were mere distractions: “I had to address something that was not specific to our schools.”
Plagiarism is specific to Chapel Hill Schools. School board policy describes plagiarism and copying as a “violation of academic integrity.” At one point the radio host (a former public high school English teacher) bravely told the Superintendent, “To be a little bit blunt… some of those passages I would have made a high school student rewrite if I’d seen that… and that much content had been not changed in any way without a citation.”
Chapel Hill transportation governance can be ignored for select social and political messaging. Questions of plagiarism by a Chapel Hill official should be disregarded if the accused represents a certain racial class or activist ideology. According to the social justice mindset, whether or not the Chapel Hill School Superintendent is guilty of plagiarism -- accidental or otherwise -- is not the issue: that she is even questioned is an act of racial injustice.
This sets a dangerous precedent already manifesting at a federal level. U.S. representative Sheila Jackson Lee proposed legislation that would punish anyone who “published material advancing white supremacy, white supremacist ideology…. directed against any non-White person or group” if that material was read by someone who perpetrated a “white supremacy inspired hate crime.” Several hundred people signed the open letter claiming racism drove the allegations and articles questioning Superintendent Hamlett. Under Jackson Lee’s bill, would the news article be seen as an act of “white supremacist ideology?” In being blunt with Hamlett, will the radio host be charged with “advancing white supremacy?”
At the school board meeting following the published plagiarism allegations, numerous members of the community spoke in support of Hamlett. One speaker read a statement written by a Chapel Hill parent: “This attack is so classically Chapel Hill. It’s heartbreaking and unsurprising in the same breath.” Understandably, the tipster wished to remain anonymous. Investigating unethical behavior in a progressive town has reputational risk. If you dare ask legitimate questions of a woke government official, expect to be run over by a social injustice bus.
Image: Nancy Andersen